Math & Literacy Learning Centers
for Upper Grades
from the Teachers.Net Learning Centers Chatboard
We stay away from one-shot centers that are high-maintenance for teachers. Here's one kids love and it can last from today till the last day of school.
Using old encyclopedias:
Go through Volume I and write 5 questions on a card for which the answers can be found in that volume. Write questions that can have one or two word answers. Affix the question card inside the front cover and at the same time make yourself an "answer key card" for Volume I. Do this for each volume. Even though your encyclopedia is outdated, you can still ask questions like "What year was Abraham Lincoln elected President?" You can underline the word that children have to look up to find the answer, or you can make it more difficult and have them figure it out. I told my students they had to complete the encyclopedia quiz to graduate from the grade level. They could do the volumes in any order (everyone doesn't have to wait for Volume I) and they have from October 1st to April 1st to complete this task. When they hand in a quiz it has to have student's name, volume # and five numbered answers. All answers must be correct to pass. When kids pass, I check them off on a chart but I do not return their papers.
For kids who had less time due to pull-out programs, they had to do fewer volumes--this was a private arrangement between me and those students. You can use the quiz year after year. It's easy, kids like it, and it's perfect when kids say "I'm done!" In my class, they are never done!
Posted by Barbara Gruber
In addition to encyclopedia you can also use a kid's question and answer book about the world. One book I bought is called, "The Big Book of Questions and Answers." published by KidsBooks. Some of the questions addressed in the book are: Who was Harry Houdini? How do spiders spin webs? When was the first car invented? I'm sure most libraries and book stores have books like this with a similar content. The best part of the book I have is that each question has a short, non-technical description that would satisfy a child's curiosity. I plan to develop numbered index cards with questions, and response sheets that have space for the students to write the question, a short answer, and also a space for an illustration.
Posted by Adrienne
I use centers during novel study time. I have a one-hour reading block. I have two reading groups and when one is with me (for 30 minutes), the other group is in centers. There are five centers. Usually they are subject-based, but I try to integrate thematically when I can. I have a reading, math, writing, vocabulary and social studies/science center. You could also have a technology center or anything else you can think of! I try to make the centers a review of what we have covered, but in an engaging way. I also add some extra work for enrichment for more advanced kids.
I have found that there are three real tricks to making centers work:
- You have to train your kids. For the first few days, they don't actually go to centers. You practice moving, practice reading the directions, etc. Even after that, it is going to take a bit of time before they can work independently. You will probably have to go back and forth between the two groups occasionally. They have to know other strategies to get help (asking a partner, looking in their math book), rather than disturbing you, and this takes time.
- Centers have to be engaging and based on something kids can connect to. Will the kids place value on this activity, will it benefit them academically, or are you just allowing them to play?
- You must include very specific directions for each center and you must cover the directions and show kids the centers before the start. I always go over them on Monday morning. This also a great time for me to connect to prior learning.
Learning centers are for remediation, practice and enrichment. Centers allow kids to work at their comfort level and advance when they need to. The skills that are covered are always review. Students should be able to complete them on their own, but I try to leave tools so that they can still complete them if they have difficulty. For example, in a math center on comparing fractions with unlike denominators, I will leave fraction strips in the center even though students know how to find common denominators using arithmetic. There will also be some advanced item, like using pentominoes, logic problems, etc. Kids don't get graded on the advanced work, but I acknowledge that they did it. If it is fun and enriching, advanced kids won't see it as extra work.
Reading center is probably the easiest to set up, because all it takes is some good picture books that are appropriate for these kids to read in a short time (all of Patricia Polocco's books, anything by Chris van Allsburg, Steven Kellogg books for folk tales, Paul Fleischmans' Weslandia, etc.). The kids complete a pre-reading question (about the topic or about the author, etc.), they read the book, and then they complete an activity. Sometimes the activity will be flow-mapping a cartoon version of the book, or bubble-mapping the traits of the main character, or filling in a plot map for the book. I use a lot of graphic organizers; because once kids have used them a few times they don't need assistance. Also, although it still encourages elevated thinking from the kids, it is not a lot of prep work for me. (I keep blank copies of different types of flow maps, pull one out of the drawer, put the title of the book, write the pre-reading question and make some copies-DONE!) Then, I leave other books by the same author, or on the same theme in the center for extra time.
Vocabulary/spelling centers are easy to set up as well. As long as you have a list of words each week, the possibilities are endless, and it doesn't take a lot of prep work, either. One week, students might be working on a vocabulary mural (just a big piece of butcher paper taped to the wall and a set of paints poured into an empty egg carton). Each kid chooses a word and they have to paint a picture of what the word means into the mural. These look great in the hallway and the kids enjoy it so much, you don't really need to supervise (just make sure you put down loads of newspaper to protect from spills). Another week, I might have kids use sentence strips to write sentences (using context clues) for, say, five of their words. If they finish early, they can draw pictures of their sentences. Final touch: have kids tape them to the classroom door.
I type up the directions for each center, including what they should do if they finish early, and print them on different colored paper (reading center is pink, writing center is green, etc.). This color-coding is not necessary, but it helps the kids identify which bucket is which so that they move quicker. Ideally, you want to have separate tables around the room for each center. I have a small room, so this doesn't work. Instead, I have color-coded stickers on each cluster of student desks, along with plastic buckets containing a clipboard with directions, the work and materials for the week and a pocket folder for completed work. Students are made to clear off desks, so others can sit at them during center time. To be honest, training them to do this is a pain. It works so much better if there are separate tables or space on the floor.
Posted by Melodi
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